Off a loss to the Kings in last year's final, the Devils hope to go one step further in 2013.
A lot of people think 2012 was a fluke.
Critics emphasize that the New Jersey Devils caught the soft Florida Panthers, dysfunctional Philadelphia Flyers and exhausted New York Rangers at the perfect time. They will say that there is no way this average offensive team can repeat last year's Stanley Cup run.
In reality, the Devils are very capable of not only repeating last year's success but taking it a step further.
From the game's most decorated goaltender to its craftiest general manager, New Jersey has a winning pedigree that cannot be debated. In the past 20 seasons, New Jersey has played in five finals. Only the Detroit Red Wings have appeared in more.
Behold these 10 reasons why the Devils can win it all in 2013.
Adam Henrique vaults the Devils into the Stanley Cup Finals.
Not to bring up the obvious, but when searching for a reason to take this team seriously look no further than seven months back on the calendar.
The reason last year is important is because nearly the entire team remains intact. Yes, Zach Parise is gone, and so are Petr Sykora and Alexei Ponikarovsky. But it takes four lines to get to the finals.
With only three departures, this team has players who are familiar with each other and familiar with what it takes to win.
Dainius Zubrus is one of many leaders on this team.
One intangible that no team can win a championship without is good character in the locker room.
The Devils have no shortage of that.
This roster has two guys in Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur who have multiple rings. New Jersey has a captain in Bryce Salvador who leads by example. Dainius Zubrus has 1,000 career games under his belt. David Clarkson can snipe a corner and then drop the gloves and is another solid veteran.
Even Ilya Kovalchuk has become a leader on the ice. He played through a lot of pain last postseason.
The chemistry—the way everybody relies on each other—comes from the locker room. The Devils have players who can be counted on for that.
Captain Bryce Salvador is the anchor of the defense.
This year, New Jersey has the same exact defensive corps from last year.
Eight for eight.
That has the potential to create special chemistry, almost telekinesis-like, come playoff time. Salvador and Marek Zidlicky serve as a reliable first pairing—the former with size and strength and the latter with agility and vision.
Henrik Tallinder can rush the puck reminiscent of the way Paul Martin used to for the Devils.
And there is Adam Larsson. Once he gets a chance to play, the 20-year-old can provide an offensive spark as his development progresses.
The Devils are the fourth oldest team in the league.
I will admit that at first I thought the lockout and shortened season would hinder the Devils. I thought it was a lost opportunity to build on the momentum from last spring.
But with the fourth oldest roster in the league (their average age is just over 29, (according to CBC Sports) and a 40-year-old netminder, the elongated offseason may have served New Jersey well. After all, the Devils did play 106 hockey games last year.
You can see the extra rest come to fruition in a spry Martin Brodeur. It is probably a reason behind the club's strong start.
New Jersey set a modern NHL record for penalty killing last season.
Last year, the Devils set a record for penalty killing in the post-expansion NHL, fighting off 89.6 percent of opponent power plays (nhl.com). It was a big reason why the club registered 102 points during the regular season.
This year the unit is off to a strong start, ranking fifth in the league through five games. What makes it special is that several of NJ's top penalty killers are also offensive studs. The days of John Madden and Jay Pandolfo may be behind us but Elias, Kovalchuk and company can play the game both ways.
New assistant coach Matt Shaw and D Marek Zidlicky should improve the power-play numbers this year.
When assistant coach Adam Oates left to become the head coach of the Washington Capitals, Lou Lamoriello replaced him with Matt Shaw. Shaw was previously an assistant with San Jose from 2009-2012, where he ran a power-play that finished second, second and fourth in the NHL the previous three seasons, respectively.
The Devils power play has been mediocre in recent years. With Shaw, expect to see this special-teams unit make a lot of improvement.
A full season with Marek Zidlicky manning the point will help too. The Czech is savvy with the puck in the middle.
New Jersey has confidence against its Eastern Conference rivals.
While we've got a long way to go before the postseason, New Jersey has to feel confident in a number of playoff scenarios in the Eastern Conference.
The unanimous favorite in the East seems to be the New York Rangers. As we saw last year in the playoffs, the Devils will not cower under the bright lights of Broadway or against the rough-and-tumble Broad Street Bullies.
Patrik Elias and David Clarkson are among many unrestricted free agents on this team.
While there were not many roster changes this offseason, the same will not be said next year.
There will be a number of unrestricted free agents once this season ends, including David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus, Marek Zidlicky, Peter Harrold and Patrik Elias. Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson are restricted free agents.
Elias, the franchise's leading scorer, has already voiced curiosity about whether this will be his last year in New Jersey. And just because Martin Brodeur's contract runs another year doesn't mean he is definitely coming back. He mulled retirement briefly last year and will probably do the same in 2013.
This could be the last go-around for this core group of Devils with Elias and Brodeur the only two remaining players from the dynasty years. The guys in the locker room surely realize this.
They should have more drive to win it all right now.
Never count out this man.
The last two reasons might be all the proof one needs to call the Devils contenders this year.
The first is Martin Brodeur. The NHL's all-time winningest goaltender found the fountain of youth last postseason, posting a 14-9 record and a 2.12 GAA. And like I mentioned before, the long offseason may have benefited Brodeur by leaving him fresh for a short sprint to the playoffs.
Fresh or not, 40 or 25 years old, this goalie does not fear the moment. There is literally nothing he hasn't accomplished—Vezinas, Stanley Cups, Olympic gold medals, you name it.
He still looks capable. As long as he is in the crease, Devils players and fans will feel secure.
If there is one person who expects the Devils to be in the hunt for the Stanley Cup, it's the general manager/president/CEO.
Did you know that Lou Lamoriello hired Rick Pitino as basketball coach when he was the athletic director at Providence College?
That he is in the Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Fame? A board member on Yankee Global Enterprises? What about a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor?
I don't even know what that last one is, honestly, but you can check for yourself here.
The point I am trying to make is that this man is very successful at whatever he does.
Stars have come and gone, and a new arena has been built. Lamoriello remains the same, employing a relentless work ethic that he expects out of everyone else in the organization.
With Lamoriello calling the shots, the Devils will always be in the mix. And with $13 million in cap space available, don't count out a major acquisition.